Saturday, October 24, 2020

The books that are keeping me sane (Brenda Hiatt)

Like many, during this difficult time I’ve retreated to comfort reads. I’m just not up to being challenged, so books that are amusing or heartwarming are my go-to reads…and rather than risk any unpleasant surprises, I’m RE-reading favorites right now. I’m nearly through yet another rereading of the Harry Potter series. I’ve also been re-enjoying the James Herriot books, which I hadn’t read in probably 25 years. Very cozy, harking back to a simpler time, with plenty of laughs sprinkled in. (If haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them, especially if you love animals. The trials, tribulations and foibles of a young veterinary surgeon in Yorkshire, England in the 1930s.) 

Beyond that, I’ve been nearly killing myself getting a book ready for release this coming Tuesday (October 27th), which is why this post is both late and short. 

I very much hope this book will also touch readers’ hearts and occasionally make them laugh.

Stay safe and happy reading!



Convergent
, the long-awaited next book in Brenda’s Starstruck series, FINALLY releases October 27th!



Thursday, October 22, 2020

Tugs on My Heart Strings (Patty Blount)

 This month's topic is a tough one for me. I am an absolute book glutton. I read several books a week and the problem with reading as fast as I do is that I don't always remember the stories I've read. They begin to blur together after some time. 

But there have been several that have made such a deep impact on me, I've never forgotten them. In fact, I re-read them when I feel sad. Here they are, in no particular order. 

NATURAL BORN CHARMER by Susan Elizabeth Phillips



This novel is a rom-com with depth. It was the first novel I'd read by this author and was a book club selection at the time. It was part of a series but could stand alone. The opening scene features the drop-dead gorgeous quarterback of a football team driving a country road and spotting a headless beaver. 

Not an actual beaver, mind you. 

A person in a beaver costume, minus the head. And she is PISSED OFF. This is the meet-cute for Dean and Blue, the main characters in this hilarious story that soon proves it's far deeper than you think. Make no mistake, Blue and Dean's relationship is one of the funniest things I've ever read but there are additional love stories. Blue and Dean both suffer from abandonment issues and there are some achingly sweet reunions throughout the novel. There's also an element of 'finding yourself' that truly touched me. This book is so special to me that whenever I'm asked to pick a book, this is the one I say first because it's nearly perfect. Here's a review I wrote back in 2011

THE BEST MAN by Kristan Higgins



This novel is first in a series with small town charm and characters all up in each other's business. The main characters in this story are Faith and Levi and though I first read this novel about 10 years ago, I still have the biggest crush on Levi Cooper. Their love story starts in school, when they're children, and extends all these years later when Levi busts up Faith's wedding to the town doctor. 

There is one scene in this novel when Faith reveals her darkest secret guilt to Levi. No one knows it, not even her own family. You know how some romance novels feature a grand gesture? The hero rents out a billboard or perhaps a horse drawn carriage, things like that? Levi, the police chief, goes to work. He spends almost all night investigating what Faith revealed to him and then, in the middle of the night, knocks on her door to share what he learned. It is by far the most heartfelt and romantic scene I've ever read and there isn't a single flower, chocolate, horse-drawn carriage, or billboard in sight. 

PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry




I was talking to my editor about what would later become my third novel, SOME BOYS, and explaining how I wanted to write the novel in dual points of view. She sent me a link to Pushing the Limits and I became a lifelong Katie McGarry fan before I finished the first chapter. 

Katie writes deep, angsty, heartrending YA novels that gut me and then put me back together in ways like nobody else. This novel features Noah and the unfortunately named Echo, two lost souls dealing with heavy issues no teens their age should ever have to face. Their love story is nothing short of epic with each deciding to do something for the other that is so huge, so full of risk, I had to stop reading to get myself back under control just so I could see the page again. If you're familiar with O. Henry's Gift of the Magi, that's the level of epicness I mean and I can't tell you more without dropping major spoilers. This book is special. 

Despite how completely wrecked I was reading this book, Katie finds ways to end her novels on hopeful and high notes that are like promises I can trust whenever I buy one of her books. I may have to hold on tight and close my eyes for a minute or two, but the end will be oh-so-sweet and worth the tears. 

What books touched your heart? I'm always looking for new ones to read. Hit me up in the comments! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Moments in Books That Stay With You (Holly Schindler)

When I started drafting my first YA manuscripts, I completely immersed myself in the latest YA books. My earliest favorites included Gabrielle Zevin’s gem ELSEWHERE.

There were just so many parts of the book I found so clever. The idea that we age backward in heaven (don’t we all say it would be heaven if we could start old and get young?), the idea that we specialize in learning a new task in heaven (accounting for inexplicable talent when we’re reborn), etc. 

 

One of my favorite inclusions in the book was a tattoo. (I’m not returning to the book to write about this aspect. I’m writing from memory. And I originally read this book soon after it released in 2005.) The main character becomes involved in heaven with a man who has a tattoo for his love. As they age backward, the tattoo gets brighter and brighter, looking newer and newer. The main character grows closer and closer to her love interest. At the point at which they fall in love, the tattoo disappears. 

 

Really, ELSEWHERE isn’t a silly, funny, laugh-out-loud book. But it’s the first YA I thought of when I thought of writing a post about books that made me smile. A full fifteen years after reading it, I still remember those passages fondly. Probably imperfectly. But definitely fondly. A book doesn’t need to be a comedy to have light moments. It doesn’t need to be fluff to make a reader smile. 

 

And maybe, if the book is a more serious read, those moments of levity have more of an impact. Maybe, if readers’ heartstrings are already being tugged, the sweeter passages land in a deeper place in their hearts too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The NOW of Pooh (Jodi Moore)

 This month, I was asked to suggest a book that has perhaps made me laugh, filled my heart, or lifted my spirits. At any other time in my life, this would have been an impossible task. My brain would have been spinning. There are so many amazing reads by brilliant authors out there – both old and new.

 

But this is now, so my heart led me back to the classic it craved: The Tao of Pooh.

 


 

 

Personality-wise, I’ve always considered myself to be a 50/50 split between Tigger and Eeyore.

 

Yet recently, one of our sons pointed out to me that I do tend to worry, overthink and hesitate an awful lot like Piglet.

 

Which got me thinking. While I believe it’s admirable to adopt a lifelong love of learning, I do step up onto my soapbox every once in a while like Owl. I’ll readily admit I’m a fiercely protective mom (like Kanga) and while I try not to be persnickety like Rabbit, I do become rather frustrated by foiled plans. 

 

Finally, there may or may not be a host of stuffed animals on my bed that I tend to talk to like Christopher Robin sometimes (okay, a lot...don’t judge. They’re good listeners.)

 

 

 

So, I thought, I’m pretty much a hybrid of all...

 

Oh... Bother.

 

That’s when I decided to reread The Tao of Pooh, where author Benjamin Hoff invites one of our favorite bears – Winnie the Pooh – and all of his loveable friends to help explain the wisdom of the Taoists.

 

Written using examples from A.A. Milne’s classic tales, Hoff explains a complex philosophy in a simple, yet powerful manner, illustrating how a ‘Bear of Little Brain’ has reached that which eludes so many: the state of true enlightenment.

 

“While Eeyore frets

and Piglet hesitates

and Rabbit calculates

and Owl pontificates...

Pooh just is.”  

- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

 

The book is both comforting and empowering, and it offers just the perfect little ‘smackerel of something’ my heart and soul needed.

 

It may be just what you need too.

 

 

 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Knockout of a Good Read by Sydney Salter

One of the best books I've read lately that touches the heart, gives a few laughs, along with some heartache is The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe. The book celebrates friendship while being different and trying to survive high school. 

Lots of surprises in this one! Lots to think about too! 

The Knockout Queen is not marketed as YA, so I guess that makes it a crossover novel. But it's one that teens would love and think about long after finishing the last page. Great discussion book too! 


Here's an interview with the author: The Nerd Daily

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

I Love You, Georgette Heyer (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about books that touch us, or make us laugh, or lift our spirits. They’re crucial, I think, in these pandemic days.

I’ve been doing almost exclusively comfort reads since March. Okay, there’s always an exception. The exception, of course, would be books for work: research or craft books, or YA novels that help keep my writer’s voice in the mind of a 17-year-old girl.

(For better or worse, though, my mind usually IS that of a 17-year-old girl.)

I’m currently working on a series about a high school for psychics, so I’ve been rereading Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Oh. My. Gods. novels by Tera Lynn Childs. (Brutal work, but someone’s gotta do it.) And Save the Cat by the brilliant and way-too-short-lived Blake Snyder.

But just for me? I’ve been reading historical romance: my ultimate comfort reads. 


The tricky thing for me as a writer is that whatever I read can unconsciously affect my own novels. Years ago, I was reading Bridget Jones’s Diary when I suddenly caught my own characters talking about “shagging,” and that was it for Bridget until I finished writing that particular novel.

The language in historical novels is so utterly different from my own that, even if it pops up in my writing, I immediately recognize it. A couple of examples: “ninnyhammer” and “watering pot.” THOSE aren’t happening in a modern novel, YA or otherwise.

Historical novels are also filled with ballrooms, debutantes (a few of whom, including the heroine in almost every story, are quite clever), and English dukes, earls, viscounts, etc., some of whom are delicious rakes. Totally not part of my life or general way of thinking. I love that.

Historicals are an escape. In 2020, escape is the ultimate quest.


And since 2020 makes me crave a GUARANTEED escape, I’ve been rereading a lot of historicals. One series I love is the Westcott series by Mary Balogh. It starts with Someone to Love, featuring poor-orphan-turned-major-heiress Anna Snow and Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby. Avery is the closest competition I’ve seen to my ultimate historical romance hero, Jo Beverley’s Lord Rothgar, who first appeared in My Lady Notorious and who makes Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy look ... well, yawn. Anyway, I just reread Someone to Love last week. Swoon!

But there are escapes, and there are ESCAPES. So now, at the end of this blog, I finally get to its subject line.

I LOVE YOU, GEORGETTE HEYER.

When I was a young pup of a writer and still practicing law, my then-secretary gave me Georgette Heyer’s Frederica and basically told me that I would never amount to anything as a novelist until I read Georgette Heyer’s novels.


Barb Miller, you were so right. Thank you. And I still love Frederica to death.

Georgette Heyer died in 1974. Before her death she produced an amazing number of historical romances and other novels, filled to the brim with humor and extremely lowbrow slang and twists and turns and, yes, romance. She’s often called the next best thing to Jane Austen, but she’s really nothing like Jane Austen. I love them both, but Jane completed a mere six novels in her lifetime and Georgette (who clearly KNEW I would be desperate for comfort reads in 2020) wrote more than 50.

Aside from Frederica, which will always have my heart (yikes, there goes my YA voice!), I can’t possibly recommend one or three or five of her novels, because my favorites are usually the ones I’ve just read. But I WILL note that in These Old Shades, the Duke of Avon is Georgette Heyer’s entry in the “Who Can Possibly Compete with Jo Beverley’s Lord Rothgar” contest. Heh heh.



So go read some Georgette Heyer already!

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.